During a recent conversation with a business colleague (I will call Sam), he looked at me and said, “Your digital age is probably in the late twenties.”
Sam was in awe of the varied digital communications venues I use, i.e. smart phone, smart pad, laptop, LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, blogs, web site, instant messaging, texting, web meetings, and traditional e-mail, but using different e-mail accounts for my varied projects. We had been discussing the digital world and how challenging it is to communicate to the younger generations because they do not use the traditional communications venues.
I have always been an early adapter who enjoys trying out all the latest in technological advances. But like most Boomers, I generally want help setting it up then I can figure everything else out. In today’s world, however, digital gadgets have become increasingly user friendly, and interconnected. I set up my LinkedIn account in 2008, but at that time I did not see the value in working it. In 2010, as the world became increasingly digital I realized I needed to use this and other tools if I am to stay connected. For the same reasons and because I wanted to stay in touch with the younger people in my life, I dived into Facebook and Twitter. I was also conducting research for my graduate thesis project and my book, 4 Generations @ Work.
I am astounded at the increased number of users over a two year period, and the context in which they are using it: people of all ages use social media to stay in touch with family and friends; business owners and marketers as sales tools; politicians on the campaign trail; ministers and evangelists communicating words of faith; various cause and political advocates messaging the platform of the day, etc.
I have found LinkedIn invaluable in helping me meet people I need to know. I will send an e-mail of introduction, and then send an invitation to connect with me on LinkedIn. Once connected, we can see what each other looks like, and review profiles. We are able to learn more about each other in a few minutes than we could have in numerous interactions. I am immediately provided contact information and a sense of being “affiliated” and “connected”.
The power behind social media is that the millions of silent “voices” are loud as people are listening and making decisions on where to shop and what to buy, how to vote, what faith message to believe in or be inspired by, which boy friend to stay connected to, what non-profit organizations to support, etc. A million likes to your message, ad, company brand, blog, or Facebook page, can mean big bucks to your bottom line as people are making decisions based on how social you are. I have never been as connected or social with so many people, at one time, across such a large geographic area—national and global.
Most organizational leaders, however, do not realize how in today’s digital world, leader/manager quality and culture can make or break the organization. For example, the younger generations have no tolerance for the former machine-age, gears and wheels, authoritative style of leader. Fear-based leadership will not work in today’s world. The younger generations prefer an autonomous, collaborative work environment. The preferences evolves as a result of growing up in a digital world.
Gen Ys, the twenty somethings, literally cut their teeth on technology. They were born into a world where everything from the musical carousel that twirled over their bed to almost all toys, jumped, dinged, talked, sang, and spouted various messages. They then migrated to TV learning games, talking books, video games, computers, and wireless phones. By the time they entered middle school, they had their own cell phones. They have been global since birth. They have been over stimulated since birth. They generally do not “talk” on the cell phone: they communicate in bits and bytes with text and social media. This is how they have communicated most of their lives. I cannot reach my nieces and nephews, Gen Zs, unless I post on Facebook or text them. They value staying connected. They are very social. They communicate constantly, multi-tasking across various platforms. They bring these same preferences into the workplace where the older generations do not understand or value it. Other generations—Veterans, Boomers, and Gen Xers have their own values and preferences as well, and they contrast to a great degree from that of the GenYs.
The workplace has never been as heterogeneous as it is today, and will become even more so over the next decade. Driving this to a great extent is digital use and global impact. Never has diversity and inclusiveness been as important as it is today when it comes to improving workplace performance. But diversity and inclusiveness solutions must include creating understanding of generational values and preferences.
Leaders who value divergent thoughts, digital knowledge, and the social ability the younger generations bring to the workplace, and who create a culture where these divergent values and preferences are understood and valued, will improve results exponentially. But this culture must be a learning environment where all generations understand each other’s preferences and values, and feel comfortable sharing and learning from each other.
Digital use will only increase, it will never decline. So it behooves us as organizational leaders to open our minds to “differences” and divergent thoughts as power and competitive positioning. We need to listen to and see the people in our lives with new ears and new eyes so we can value people for who they are, not what we think they should be. Then we can become the leaders today’s world demands: leaders who maximize peoples’ potential and help them succeed. Then we can lead our organizations to success.
So, what is your digital age? If you are not using the tools all generations are using, in the workplace and in your marketing programming, you are not getting your message to your audience. But an even more significant point in your workplace is that you are not understanding the second to largest group in the work force—Gen Ys at over 70 million.
Copyright © 2011 by Patricia Hatley
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